Wednesday 19 September 2018

Paul Kimmage: More twists to come in tale of the unexpected for Irish cricketer Ed Joyce

Ed Joyce never thought he'd play professional cricket, never thought he'd play for England and never thought he'd come back to Ireland. And it's not over yet

Ed Joyce: ‘I remember being on the DART with my older brothers as a seven or eight-year-old and these scumbags giving us hassle: “What’s in your bag?” . . . We actually got a knife pulled on us once. Photo: David Conachy
Ed Joyce: ‘I remember being on the DART with my older brothers as a seven or eight-year-old and these scumbags giving us hassle: “What’s in your bag?” . . . We actually got a knife pulled on us once. Photo: David Conachy
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

I made a list the other day of the cricketers I've interviewed. It runs something like this: Twelve Brett Lees, three Ian Bothams, three Kevin Pietersens, two Freddie Flintoffs, two Shane Warnes, a Michael Vaughan, an Adam Gilchrist, a Geoff Boycott, an Andrew Strauss, a Justin Langer, a Nasser Hussain, a Mark Ramprakash, a Graham Thorpe and a Stuart Broad. So there's an obvious question here and it's one I can't answer.

Why have I taken so long to catch up with Ed Joyce?

It's a Friday evening in June 2006. I've spent the day in Southampton talking about sex with Shane Warne and I'm driving towards London with the radio on. England are playing Sri Lanka in a Twenty20 international at the Rose Bowl. It's the second over. Sanath Jayasuriya is at the crease. He hooks a bouncer from Steve Harmison towards third man and there's an audible gasp from the crowd. Ed Joyce has stumbled and failed to make the catch.

'Isn't that the Irish guy?'

Five months later, we met for a coffee in Adelaide after the second test of the Ashes in Australia. A late replacement for Marcus Trescothick, he had joined the England squad with his Dublin-born girlfriend, Francesca Harris, and was clearly living the dream. Eight weeks later, he scored a maiden century against Australia in Sydney and looked set to be an England star. But fate is always making plans.

Ten days ago, we sat down again for coffee and he explained the twists and turns.

International cricket star Ed Joyce
International cricket star Ed Joyce

 

1 The English Game

As a young boy growing up in central Dublin, Jimmy Joyce had no reason to care for cricket. His school did not play the sport and there were no cricket grounds near him. One day in the summer of 1950, listening to the radio at home, he turned to BBC Radio 4. On the broadcast was commentary from West Indies' tour of England. John Arlott's mesmerizing description of "those two little pals of mine" - Sonny Ramadhin and Alf Valentine - gripped the young boy. A lifelong infatuation with cricket was born.

Jimmy did not play until he was an adult, but he ensured his children would not be deprived in the same way. Growing up in Bray, a coastal town south of Dublin, the five boys and four girls of Jimmy and Maureen were never short of a bat or ball. Their school did not play cricket either, and though Bray had one cricket club, it was itinerant, leasing grounds on a week-to-week basis and grappling with financial problems. BBC radio broadcasts, and now television coverage, allowed the children to inherit their father's love of the game.

Tim Wigmore (ESPN) 'The first family of cricket'

 

Paul Kimmage: Okay, let's take it from the top. The month is September 1978; Muhammad Ali has beaten Leon Spinks to win the World heavyweight championship for the third time; the Yorkshire Ripper has murdered a tenth victim; Pope John Paul dies after just 33 days in office; and Edmund Christopher Joyce is born.

Ed Joyce: (laughs) Is that how you start all of these?

PK: Not always. I'm trying to get your attention and a theatrical flourish often works.

EJ. Right.

PK: Tell me about Jimmy and Maureen?

EJ: Dad is from the Liberties in Dublin and mum is a Murphy from Cork. Dad's the oldest of three siblings - his father passed away when he was very young - and he went to Synge Street. He got a job in the Civil Service and met my mum there. They lived initially in Stillorgan and bought a house in Bray a year before I was born. And they've been there ever since.

PK: So Bray was home?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: And you're one of nine?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Give me the order?

EJ: Helen is the oldest, then Johnny and Damian and Gus; then Gemma and myself and Dominick; and Cecelia and Isobel are twins.

PK: And the five youngest have played cricket for Ireland?

EJ: No, Gemma wasn't a cricketer. Gus and the last four.

PK: Where does the cricket come from?

EJ: Dad loved the game but I don't know how he got into it. He was a big football fan - he used to go to (Shamrock) Rovers and stuff as a kid - and would have listened to a lot of the West Indies and Australia games on the radio. So that might have been the birth of it. They got involved with Bray Cricket Club when they moved out and a lot of my summers were spent there, out among the straw fields with the cricket pitch in the middle.

PK: Here's a photo of Kevin O'Brien from his book. The year is 1990, he's six years old and he's standing in front of Ian Botham as he walks out to bat in Clontarf.

EJ: (smiles) Yeah, I'd be very surprised if I wasn't at that game.

PK: So you can identify with that?

EJ: Absolutely. I used to go to all of the Ireland games. They played once or twice a year against whatever team was touring - exhibition games really, because we weren't very good - but in my head the Ireland players were amazing.

PK: Cricket was a minority sport and perceived as an English game.

EJ: Yeah.

PK: And there was a stigma attached to that.

EJ: Definitely, and we got a bit of shit. I remember being on the Dart with my older brothers as a seven- or eight-year-old and these scumbags giving us hassle: "What's in your bag?" Because we'd have these big cricket bags with our kit under the seats and they would want to look in. We actually got a knife pulled on us once in Dun Laoghaire.

PK: Really?

EJ: Yeah, luckily there was a good Samaritan on board, 'Put that knife away you little *****!', and they just sat there, staring at us. So I would always hide my kit on the Dart. Cricket was seen as the English game even though football and rugby were just as English. I think it was just the nature of it with the whites and the pads and the tea. It looked posh. And you only realised how minority it was when you tried to talk to someone about it. But that never ruined our enjoyment of it.

PK: What about other sports?

EJ: I played rugby at school and would have gone to all of the matches at Lansdowne Road, the Six Nations or Five Nations as it was then. But I probably didn't have the physique for it to be honest. And I played football until I was 16 and loved all sports, but cricket was the one I was better at.

PK: You had just done your Leaving Cert when you made your debut for Ireland against Scotland in 1997.

EJ: Yeah, at a club ground in West Bromwich.

PK: The Irish team of ten amateurs was led by an ex-County pro called Justin Benson and included Alan Lewis (the Rugby Union referee). Here's a quote from Lewis: "I remember Ed loping to the wicket the way he always does, never getting too flustered. His opening shot was a clip off his legs, square for four: Goweresque. He looked like he had been there ten years."

EJ: (smiles)

PK: Is that how it felt?

EJ: No, I was obviously nervous but I've always had that 'loping to the wicket' thing going on. Angus Fraser said the same after my first TV game for Middlesex, that I'd wandered out looking like I'd been playing for ages but I was absolutely shitting myself.

PK: (laughs)

EJ: I told him afterwards and he said: "Well that's not the way it looks." But that calmness, if you can fake it, can be handy. And I've always had that. But it's definitely not how I've felt inside. The thing I remember most about that Scotland game is that we were well on top and managed to lose. It opened my eyes about some of the guys - Lewey included - that I'd had on a pedestal since I was a kid. They had picked up a lot of mental scars over the years against the Scots and it showed that day.

PK: A couple of months later you went to Trinity on a scolarship.

EJ: No, I took a year out first and played for a small club in Australia for six months. It was in a place called Keilor, which is miles outside Melbourne in the middle of nowhere. It was a club for grown men and I was completely out of my depth, even though I had just played for Ireland. I found it hard. It opened my eyes to how bad I was, so I came home and started in Trinity.

PK: So you had no aspirations to play at the highest level?

EJ: There was no precedent for playing professionally so that wasn't on my radar at all. I'd gone to Middlesex that summer and played for the second team in a trial and found the whole experience very off-putting. There were some older pros playing and they were very bitter and stuff and didn't speak to me for the first three days.

PK: What does 'bitter' mean?

EJ: It was cut-throat. Their attitude was: 'How can I get back into the first team?' rather than, 'How can I look after this Irish kid who is obviously shitting himself?' They weren't bad people it was just. . .

PK: This was their living?

EJ: Yeah, it was their job.

PK: Welcome to pro sport.

EJ: Welcome to pro sport. So I thought that was it and that playing for Ireland was going to be the be-all and end-all for me. And I'd gone to Australia more for a life experience than anything, because I had no idea what I wanted to do in college.

PK: What did you do?

EJ: I liked geography and plucked economics stupidly out of the air.

PK: Why stupidly?

EJ: Because it's crap, but I enjoyed the geography.

PK: What made you go back to Middlesex?

EJ: They asked me over again but I wasn't sure about it, it was probably my mum and dad: 'Just play a couple of games.' So I went back and played a second team game at Eton College and got 60-odd. I was batting with Ian Gould, who was the second team coach - he's now an international umpire - and he basically signed me straight after that innings.

PK: When you say he 'signed' you?

EJ: He just said: 'Would you like to come and play for a couple of summers?' He knew I was in university and could come over during the summer. So I went to Lord's and signed and did well and by my third year in Trinity I'd played a few first-team games.

PK: Are you an historian? Were you impressed by Lord's?

EJ: It definitely impressed me but I hadn't really built it up. The thing I do remember is the first time I went into the changing room. There was a squad meeting with Justin Langer, our captain at the time, and (Mark) Ramprakash, Phil Tufnell, Angus Fraser - a very impressive roster of players. I remember sitting in the corner and looking out at the ground: 'This is bonkers.'

PK: Fantastic.

EJ: Yeah, it was pretty cool.

PK: And you're doing something you never imagined you'd do?

EJ: Absolutely, and I think that helped me. It definitely helped me initially with the second team because I had no expectation of making it, absolutely none, because I had gone to Australia and played crap at club cricket there, and I just assumed that everyone in England was better than I was.

PK: There was no pressure?

EJ: Absolutely no pressure. I would often go in and hit my first ball for four and the lads would be like: 'How the fuck did you do that?' There was no question of leaving a few or getting yourself in, I just hit it, and that (attitude) definitely helped in the early days. But it's different when it's your job.

PK: When did you realise you were good enough?

EJ: The first hundred. We were playing Warwickshire at Lord's and that was definitely when the penny dropped. I had played a lot of second-team cricket and knew I could play but this was . . . I don't know if you know the vagaries.

PK: Go on.

EJ: Well, one of the big things when you go to England is the hard, bouncy wickets and figuring out how to deal with the short-pitched stuff at your head. I got bombed in that first innings against Warwickshire. They bowled a lot of bouncers but didn't get me out and I got a hundred.

PK: Great to do it at Lord's.

EJ: Yeah, absolutely brilliant.

PK: So now your mindset has changed?

EJ: Well, the first thing I thought was: 'They can never take that away from me.' But I got another hundred at Worcester a couple of days later and signed a three-year contract to go full-time in 2002.

PK: How did that work?

EJ: You signed for seven months of the year - from the start of April to the end of September - and could do what you wanted for the other five months, so long as you turned up reasonably fit for the new season.

PK: What did your parents think?

EJ: Well, up until I was about 30 my dad would have said: 'You should get a bloody job in the winter and do something.'

PK: (laughs)

EJ: And he was probably right, but I didn't know what I wanted to do and had no interest sitting in an office. I just thought: 'I'll be all right. I'll find something.' So I didn't make it a career, it just sort of happened, which is not to say I didn't work hard at it.

 

2 'Jesus! I actually might play for England'

Success would bring new challenges. In 2006, a year after scoring 399 runs at 99.75 in the ICC Trophy to secure Ireland's World Cup qualification, Ed was selected for England. Then, as now, you can play for Ireland on Monday and England on Tuesday - but if you switched back you had to wait four years, now reduced to two.

Ed made his England debut in what was Ireland's inaugural ODI, in Belfast. He was up against his younger brother, Dom, who had played 2nd XI cricket for Middlesex and was thought to have the talent to make it in county cricket but not the temperament. The siblings who had led Ireland to their first World Cup - Ed was Ireland's top scorer in the qualifiers; Dom was man-of-the-match in the win against Denmark that secured the World Cup berth - were now opening the batting for opposing sides.

Tim Wigmore (ESPN) 'The first family of cricket'

 

PK: So you sign for Middlesex, move to London?

EJ: Yeah, I had two sisters living there, Gemma and Helen, and I lived in Helen's attic for the first year in this dodgy area near Turnpike Lane, but I loved it. I love London.

PK: How did you qualify for England?

EJ: The rule used to be that you had to live in the country for 183 days for four consecutive years, which playing county cricket you did. So there was no issue, because once I had the full contract I never really came home other than Christmas and stuff like that. It was Angus Fraser who asked me about it first. We had just finished a training session in Finchley and he said: "What would you think about qualifying for England?" I said: "Why would I want to do that?" He said: "Why wouldn't you want to do it?" I said: "Would a French football player want to play football for England?" "Clearly not," he said. "Well," I said, "I'm Irish."

PK: When was this?

EJ: 2001.

PK: Interesting that he should ask.

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Was he testing your ambition?

EJ: Yeah, maybe.

PK: Where were you with Ireland?

EJ: We tried to qualify for the World Cup in Canada that year and we got absolutely murdered. It was a farcical trip. We had brought three or four guys who were clearly injured; we had one guy sent home, and were so short of players at the end that we had to get James Fitzgerald - a journalist who was out there covering it - to field for us in a game.

PK: (laughs)

EJ: We were beaten by the USA, beaten by Denmark, it was absolutely farcical.

PK: So I guess, after an experience like that, it was easier to start thinking about playing for England?

EJ: No, it wasn't like that. There was no question of playing for England at that stage; no part of me that even considered it. I loved playing for Ireland but the games during the summer were practically non-existent: there would be a three-day game against Scotland . . . a one-day game against the Duchess of Norfolk's XI . . . stuff like that. So I didn't play again for Ireland until the (World Cup) qualifying tournament in 2005.

PK: The priority was to establish yourself at Middlesex?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Because that was your job.

EJ: That was my job. I would have played if the games were Australia or if it was like it is now, but there was no such thing as Cricket Ireland. There was no professional staff. It was the Irish Cricket Union, and it was hard to describe how ramshackle it was.

PK: So you help Ireland to qualify for the 2007 World Cup?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: But by that stage you're playing for England. How did that come about?

EJ: Okay, I'll wind back a bit. I was doing well at Middlesex and started to realise: 'Jesus! I can actually play.' And then it was: 'Jesus! I might actually play for England.' And then it was: 'Jesus! I'm actually not that far away!' We were playing Yorkshire in a four-day game at Southgate (in June 2006) and I had just got a hundred. The squads for the ODIs against Ireland and Sri Lanka were about to be picked and I got a call after the game.

PK: Who made the call?

EJ: It was either Geoff Miller or David Graveney.

PK: Who do you tell?

EJ: I would have told Fran straightaway, and my mum and dad. I wouldn't have been shouting about it. I'm more expressive now than I used to be so I would have internalised it a lot. But I felt a lot of pride.

PK: One of the great traditions of the game is that every international gets a number.

EJ: On the international caps?

PK: Yeah.

EJ: I should know my number but I don't.

PK: You're presented with it before the game in Stormont?

EJ: Yeah, we flew to Belfast and I've a feeling I knew I was playing because myself and (Marcus) Trescothick were the only openers in the squad. And you go out and get in a huddle and someone gives you the cap and there must have been a clap, but I genuinely don't remember it. That whole game is a bit of a blur. It was a strange old day.

PK: Because you're making your debut against Ireland?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: And against Dominick, your brother.

EJ: Uh-huh.

PK: That must have felt odd?

EJ: It was crap actually. I hated that game. I absolutely hated it. It was a great day for Irish cricket - the first ODI between England and Ireland. There was a big crowd and it was on TV but it was the worst possible game for me to play in. It was just a weird experience.

PK: Were your parents there?

EJ: My dad was there, and my sisters, and lots of family.

PK: It must have been odd for him?

EJ: It was, but he was over the moon. It was sort of unprecedented to have someone playing for England from Ireland and in cricket circles it was seen as an incredible achievement, and people were generally proud. But in other circles it was: 'What the fuck is this Irishman playing for England for?'

PK: Was there much attention from the press?

EJ: Not that much. The fact that it was in Northern Ireland made it easier because most of the people playing in the North would have been from the (unionist) side. I can't remember there being huge coverage down south; most of it would have been from cricket journalists who would have been more glowing than not.

PK: Because they understood the context?

EJ: Yeah, completely. It was only later at the World Cup when Ireland did well that there was more negative stuff around.

PK: Okay, I'll come to that, but let's stick with what happens next. Two days after the game in Belfast, I'm driving towards London listening to the radio as you're being stretchered off against Sri Lanka in Southampton.

EJ: Yeah, a Twenty20 game. Massive crowd. I'm fielding at third man with Jamie Dalrymple and (Steve) Harmison's first ball is a bouncer. He (the batsman) hooks it and it's flying down towards me. I'm running around and have it in my sights but for a new ground the outfield isn't great at Southampton and I go over on my ankle. I'm lying there on the ground and someone in the crowd is giving me abuse. They take me off and put me into the back of an ambulance and I'm sent to the hospital, no-one with me, no England staff.

PK: Really?

EJ: I have an X-ray. The game has happened. I'm sitting in the hospital on crutches wearing my England kit. I've no wallet, no phone, nothing with me. I'm thinking: 'I don't know how I'm going to get back here!' I ask the hospital to order me a cab and the driver takes me to the team hotel where I ask him to wait as I hobble to my room to get some money to pay him. I remember thinking: 'If this had happened to KP (Kevin Pietersen), there's no way he'd have gone to hospital on his own.'

PK: That's astonishing.

EJ: Yeah, I told Fran and she couldn't believe it. It was an awful way to treat someone.

PK: How long did the injury keep you out?

EJ: There wasn't a huge amount of swelling, so I got back playing pretty quick and played a few games against Pakistan that summer. I did okay. We drew the series and I was playing reasonably well for Middlesex so. . .

PK: Let's talk about what happens in November: Marcus Trescothick withdraws from the squad on the eve of the Ashes and you're chosen to replace him in Australia.

EJ: That's something I do remember. The squad had left obviously; I wasn't part of it, and wasn't expecting to be part of it but I wake-up one morning - we lived in Clapham at the time - and I'm on my way to the local shop for some milk and bread when I get the call: "Marcus is coming home. You're going out to the Ashes." And I just remember thinking: 'Oh my God!'

PK: This is mega.

EJ: Yeah, the 2005 Ashes had been an incredible series - every game had captured the imagination - and there was huge buzz in the build-up to Australia. And knowing I was going to be part of it was just great. I came home and told Fran and she says: "Right! I'm coming with you." You're supposed to fly 'business' with England but the only available seats were first class, so instead of going down (to economy) we were moved up. Fran was like: "This is ridiculous."

PK: What a great start!

EJ: Yeah, I remember landing and being on such a high. It was great fun.

PK: What was it like going into a dressing room with (Freddie) Flintoff and Pietersen, who had become superstars after '05?

EJ: I had played a bit with them the previous summer and I had a decent (pedigree) so it wasn't as if I was some sort of wildcard. I had done well and they knew I could play and that's important when you're among your peers. So I wasn't overawed. I felt I deserved to be there.

PK: What about the Australians? You obviously knew Langer pretty well?

EJ: Yeah, I knew Justin. And Stuart Clarke and (Glenn) McGrath had also played for Middlesex, but they weren't really in chatty mode. Having said that, I met Stuart and Langer for lunch in Adelaide one of the days, which probably wouldn't have happened if I'd been playing, but they were grand. They played the game hard but I think they knew from early on they were on top and that the England team weren't. . .

PK: Firing?

EJ: Yeah, it was a weird time. They had made Fred captain to keep him happy when (Andrew) Strauss, really, should have been captain. And it didn't help that (Michael) Vaughan - a captain who wanted to be captain and was desperate to play but was injured - was on the Tour. So the dynamic was really strange. And it was pretty obvious from early on that it was Duncan Fletcher's (the England coach) last hurrah.

PK: Five-nil was a fair thumping.

EJ: An absolute thumping.

PK: When did it become obvious that you weren't going to play?

EJ: I think it was clear after Adelaide (the second Test) that I wasn't going to play, regardless of how badly the team was doing. I wasn't netting at all. I had one net in the entire two months - an absolutely bizarre situation when you consider that I was the back-up batsman. Imagine being a golfer and not hitting balls for two months?

PK: That's ridiculous.

EJ: That's what happened. Basically, the coaches looked after the people who were playing but I hardly put my pads on. I literally didn't hit a ball. So I thought: 'I'm definitely not going to play here,' even though, clearly, some of our batsmen were not playing well. And it wasn't because I was being ostracised, it was just the way things were done. And by the time the one-day series came around I was completely out of nick.

PK: Yeah, that was my next question.

 

3 Something remarkable

We won in Sydney because something remarkable happened. One of our top order batsmen scored a hundred, that is what happened. Not for seven months had anyone done that and the situation had become so dire that we had stopped mentioning it in team meetings. It was clearly getting to the players. But it was Irishman Ed Joyce who stopped the rot, scoring 107, as our total of 292 was too much for an Australian side which never recovered from Adam Gilchrist's first ball dismissal to a beautiful in-swinger from Liam Plunkett.

Duncan Fletcher 'Behind the Shades'

 

PK: The Ashes concludes with a fifth defeat for England in Sydney but you're selected to stay on for the one-day series?

EJ: Yeah, there's a tri-series every winter - Australia, New Zealand and England.

PK: But there's a problem. You haven't played for two months?

EJ: I hadn't batted at all. The only time I'd practiced was when Harmison needed to bowl in the nets at Adelaide - he'd had a shocker in Brisbane - but that was it. If I'd gone in for one of those Test matches I'd have been humiliated. Imagine facing Brett Lee and Warne and McGrath when I hadn't batted!

PK: And to state the bleeding obvious, Ed, can you not point that out to them?

EJ: (exhales) Yeah, that's not my strong point. I don't throw the toys out of the pram. I should have been more vocal and asked questions. I should have gone to them and said: 'Listen, I need to have a net.' So I definitely bear some of the blame.

PK: The tri-series begins and England lose five of the first six games?

EJ: Yeah, we had beaten New Zealand in Hobart. The tour was a bit of a shemozzle at that stage.

PK: Until that remarkable game in Sydney where you get a hundred?

EJ: That was huge. I remember Fred coming up at the end of the game and giving me a hug. He actually thanked me, because he was still captain and had gone through an awful bloody time. So it was a big moment.

PK: You told Paul Rowan about some abuse you took from an Irish guy at that game: "He was going on about 1916. It was a bit strange in front of an Aussie crowd having an Irish guy abusing an England player. I think he only came to the ground to do that and he was thrown out."

EJ: Yeah, I never really got flack here but I got a bit from Irish people at various times on that trip in bars and stuff.

PK: How did you react?

EJ: There was always about two per cent of me that felt guilty about playing for England, so I didn't react with anger. It was more: 'Well if that's what they think, that's what they think.' I wasn't going to go through the whole spiel of explaining how it had happened. That would have taken hours.

PK: Sure.

EJ: So there wasn't much I could do about it, but it wasn't nice because I always felt like an Irishman playing for England. I felt Irish. I am Irish.

PK: You described that hundred as the best feeling you'd had in cricket?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Is it still?

EJ: No, probably not, but it was definitely the highlight with England.

PK: A month later, you're off to the World Cup. Ireland beat Pakistan and there's a sudden awakening here to the team and the game?

EJ: Yeah, I wasn't torn at all. I was there with England and was hoping England did well but I was absolutely overjoyed when they beat Pakistan. It was a better Ireland team than the one I'd known. Ireland had always had this thing: 'We're not good enough.' But these guys didn't have that baggage. Adi (the Ireland coach, Adrian Birrell) had got Trent Johnson to do the captaincy - a very clever move - and some young guys in like Niall O'Brien and (William) Porterfield with a bit of chutzpah about them. It was a much more dynamic team. They played good cricket and had a belting trip.

PK: It didn't go as well for you?

EJ: I started terribly. I was out to the second ball in the first game against New Zealand - one of those things, the ball was there to be hit and I nicked it. So we lost that game quite badly but beat Canada and Kenya and I was man-of-the-match in possibly both those games. Then we played Ireland and Boyd Rankin bowled me. I remember 'Nobby' (Niall O'Brien) giving me a send-off, the little shite.

PK: What did he say?

EJ: I can't remember . . . I never minded that actually.

PK: It must have hurt?

EJ: It did. It hurt my pride. I wasn't in a great place at the time with my cricket and I didn't feel I could turn it around. At Middlesex, you can go to the Finchley indoor school and spend five hours in the nets but you can't do that on tour. I played the next game against Sri Lanka and it was my last for England.

PK: You played 17 times for England, which is not what it should have been. And twice against Ireland, which was the worst it could have been?

EJ: Yeah, I didn't enjoy those two games.

PK: What happened when you came back?

EJ: I went straight into a season with Middlesex. I was jaded. I had been away all winter and a lot of great stuff had happened but it had ended at a World Cup where I had been dropped, so I was a bit down. I had a middling season for Middlesex and just remember feeling low.

PK: Had the gloss worn off? Had cricket become a job?

EJ: Never at Middlesex. It was always a job in the sense that it was how I earned money - and one of the great things about playing for England is that you earn a lot of money - but it never felt like a job. It was always enjoyable.

PK: Even during that middling season?

EJ: Yeah. I was mentally drained and the motivation wasn't there but it was still fun. I was still on that high of playing sport for a living.

PK: When did that change?

EJ: I left Middlesex in 2008. We won the Twenty20 Cup and that was great, because Middlesex hadn't won anything for years, but I left to go to Sussex because I felt I needed a change. So to answer your question: I got a bad hip injury in 2009 and was out for six or seven months and it became harder after that. I loved my time in Sussex and I played my best cricket there but it became . . . not a chore, but I found myself asking questions: 'Can I still play at my best or am I doing this for a cheque?'

PK: When did you get married?

EJ: 2008.

PK: And you've two boys?

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Did that change anything?

EJ: It changed our outlook. I loved living in England, it was home, but that steadily changed over time with the kids.

PK: How do you explain that?

EJ: When you're a single couple your social life revolves around your friends. We had cricket friends, college friends and were out constantly. When the kids are born you become more isolated, especially down in Brighton, and you're drawn back to your family. And I had already made the decision in 2010 to play for Ireland again.

PK: Explain.

EJ: I'd been talking to Fran about it and she was: "Is this definitely what you want to do? Because once you put your eggs in that basket there's no going back?" Professionally, from a monetary point of view, it didn't make sense, but emotionally it was what I wanted to do.

PK: Tell me about coming home?

EJ: Living here?

PK: Yeah.

EJ: Well, that was only very recently. I knew my days of playing county cricket were up. We had spent a few winters back here with mum and dad in Bray, and had rented for a bit as well to see if we wanted to come back, and bought a house here (in Dublin) last year. That was my last season with Sussex. They needed a senior batsman and still wanted me to play and I tentatively agreed to job-share. Basically, I was going to split my time between the four-day games for Sussex and the domestic stuff here, but I realised early on that wasn't going to work, so I rang them and said I was just going to play for Ireland.

PK: How does that work?

EJ: Cricket Ireland pay my contract; I play for Ireland, play domestic cricket here and do some coaching until the end of December when that finishes.

PK: That was my next question. What happens next?

EJ: The team are in Dubai at the moment and I'm supposed to be there but I've had a knee operation and it's still a bit sore so . . . I don't know. I've thought about retiring but we've got a huge few months coming up, a World Cup qualifier in March and a first Test match against Pakistan in May, so I'm leaning towards keeping going. I'd love to play in that first Test.

PK: It would be a nice way to finish.

EJ: Yeah, I would love to play that game.

PK: Does it feel unusual to be a professional sportsman at 39?

EJ: The only time I feel 39 is when I wake up feeling my hips and knees. But I can still move pretty well. I'm not carrying a lot of weight and I don't feel as old as 39 mentally.

PK: You were asked recently by Ger Siggins where you saw yourself in five years and you said: "People have mentioned me getting into administration because they think I'm smart but that doesn't really turn me on. I still want to be in a tracksuit but I've no idea what I'll be doing in five years."

EJ: Yeah.

PK: Then you said: "And I quite like not knowing." And I thought that was really interesting because I think most pro athletes are tortured by what happens next. Not you?

EJ: I would worry about the next six months rather than the next five years. I've never really . . . well, I do think about it obviously because I've a mortgage and kids and stuff, but the reason I said that, and the reason I feel that way, is when I look back on my career, I would never have guessed, from one part to the next, everything that happened. I never thought I'd play professional cricket. I never thought I'd play for England. I never thought we'd go back to Ireland. I never thought we'd end up living here. And I love that.

PK: Sure.

EJ: And the administration thing is true. For some reason I give off this persona that it's what I should be doing but I've no ambition at all to be an administrator or a committee person. I get a real kick out of coaching, but whether there's a future in that for me, or whether I'm any good at it, I don't really know.

PK: So no plan?

EJ: (smiles) Well, my short-term plan, obviously, is that Fran has a brilliant career and I can do shag all and have some time to figure it out. (smiles)

PK: But the ride has been pretty good so far?

EJ: Yeah, I've loved it. It's been brilliant.

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